More than 80 million adults in the United States are afflicted by heart disease, the country’s leading cause of death. It takes more than 800,000 lives each year. Just under 500,000 of those fatalities result from a heart attack; nearly 150,000 from a stroke; and the remainder are from cardiac arrhythmia, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, congenital defects and other heart disorders.
A tragic aspect of these figures is that 80 percent of heart disease cases are preventable. Smoking, for instance, is a major contributor, raising blood pressure, generating free-radical damage and aggravating other risk factors, such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Smoking more than doubles the risk for sudden cardiac death; and yet just one year after someone quits, their risk of having a heart attack is cut in half. Obesity, poor nutrition and chronic stress are other high-risk factors that could be mitigated by diet and exercise. Even for those who are born with heart disease (congenital heart disease) or are genetically predisposed to it, lifestyle choices can make the difference between keeping the condition manageable and letting it become debilitating.
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